Updated Nov 11 2019 :: by Emily Hall

SLAs, or Service Level Agreements, are an agreement between your support staff and the customer. They establish the timeline customers should expect when contacting your support staff. This SLA guide will walk you through what an SLA is, how to create one, and the SLA best practices.

While not always displayed externally, SLAs are a great way to set precedents and clearly define your support services. With an SLA backing you up, there will never be any gray area when it comes to what's expected from your support staff (and customers). An SLA can establish transparent processes that your employees (and customers, if it's not an internal document) can refer to.

Some help desk software (JitBit included) can be set up to send alerts if SLAs are violated. So, for example, if your SLA says that critical tickets should be answered in two hours and a critical ticket hasn't been answered in that timeframe, then an alert could be configured to notify the support manager. This type of guideline helps keep tickets from becoming lost in the pool and ensures that they are answered in a timely fashion. By configuring your help desk software to work with your SLAs, you can set a standard for your support team.

Want to kickstart the process of creating an SLA? Download our free SLA template.

Why are SLAs Important?

SLAs sound nice, but are they worth the hassle of creating? There are a variety of reasons why creating and managing SLAs is essential for every support team.

SLAs Set Customer Expectations. It's crucial to set customer expectations. SLAs can help with that by establishing what a customer should expect when they reach out to your staff. From timeline expectations to what will be needed are all things that an SLA can define.

As a bonus for establishing customer expectations, if a customer can read in your SLA about ticket response timeframes, it may help fend off customers who would clog up your support lines by incessantly checking in for progress updates.

SLAs Establish Consistency. SLAs are important because not only do they set customer expectations, they keep your support team performance consistent. With SLAs in place to dictate the time frame for ticket responses, it can keep your support team on top of everything.

SLAs Help with Prioritization. With an SLA to guide your support staff, it can help them prioritize their work based on the time and priority each ticket needs. Without an SLA, it may be harder for them to prioritize tickets without leaving some sit for days.

For example, if you had a long list of tickets, each labeled with "low," "medium," "high," and "critical," which would you want to focus on first? The knee-jerk answer is "critical" tickets. When you finish the "critical" ones, you would move down to work on the "medium" tickets.

However, during this time, the "medium" tickets have been sitting without response. With an SLA, you can add a new factor by which to prioritize: time.

By sorting your tickets by priority level and time, your support staff can make sure that everything is answered in a timely fashion. If you need help coming up with a way to prioritize your tickets, check out this blog by HubSpot.

SLAs Keep You From Losing Tickets. When SLAs are built into the help desk software itself, it can also keep your team from losing track of tickets. Without set guidelines, tickets could fall through the cracks and wind up lost in the support pool. This inattention not only makes your company look bad, but it can also be a huge turn off for a customer. If you set up SLA-based automated notifications for when a ticket's time frame has been exceeded, it can help put the ticket back on your support staff's radar. This automated reminder keeps tickets from disappearing into the abyss, and your customers happy.

SLAs Set a Standard for Performance Assessment. SLAs also help you measure your support staff's performance. To measure something, you must first have a standard. With SLA guidelines in place, you will be able to better assess your staff's performance within those guidelines.

New SLA Guide: Key Components

So now that you know why you should have an SLA, how do you go about creating one that fits your business? The best SLA for you may not be the same as the best SLA for another company. However, regardless of what aspect you want to focus on, SLAs require two parts:

  • Service
  • Management

Any worthwhile SLA will address these two items. Between the two, you will be able to come up with a well-rounded SLA that will help you achieve you define and achieve your goals.

Service

The service aspects of an SLA will define what you offer your customers. Some support teams offer more than just help; some may offer special assisted services, like software migrations or upgrades. In an SLA, it's essential to outline the services your support team provides and establish a standard for what it does (and does not) include.

Defining the services you offer will include more than just what the service does. It should also mention:

  • Any conditions that could influence the service your support team provides
  • Standards of measure, such as priority levels
  • And, as we mentioned earlier, the timeframes allotted for the services.

There are various timeframes to consider. For example, you could include guidelines for response times, as well as the time frame for resolution.

Pro Tip: If your SLA is customer-facing, it can be tempting to make impressive promises to dazzle the customer. However, we recommend giving yourself wiggle room and setting the bar low, especially when it comes to time frames. Setting customer expectations low and then exceeding them is much better than setting customer expectations too high, but then failing to measure up.

SLAs should also include a detailed list of responsibilities for each party (such as support staff and customers) so that everyone knows what is required in order to fulfill the service request. For example, your support staff are responsible for providing support for your product, but you may write into your SLA that they are not responsible for fixing third-party integrations. Likewise, you may require customers to grant permission to access their account for your support team to perform a migration.

It is also important to include the correct procedure for escalation: what qualifies, how it should be executed, etc. Without the process in writing, things can easily get muddled.

In short, make sure you define:

  • The service itself
  • Service standards or conditions
  • Time frames (consider response times and resolution times)
  • Company/support staff responsibilities
  • Customer responsibilities
  • Escalation procedures

By defining the service aspects for your support team, you can establish a base for your SLA.

Management

The management aspect makes up the second critical component in an SLA. It goes beyond just the explanation of services. It instead defines how services are dealt with and implemented.

Management SLA sections may include methods for measuring services, how the processes are reported, and how disputes should be resolved. It's also important to think outside the SLA document when coming up with SLA management guidelines.

These are the type of questions you need to ask when coming up with the SLA management plan. While some of this may be written in the SLA itself, such as penalties for SLA violations, these are important aspects to consider for practical application.

An SLA is like a rule book. It defines what your support team offers, what is needed, and in what timeframe. The SLA only works, though, if you can implement it into your support's workflow. Make sure that they are adhering to the SLA. Working the SLA directly into your help desk software is a great way to do this. So is making sure that your staff members are aware of the SLA's existence. Making the SLA customer-facing is another way to increase accountability; if customers have the SLA to refer to, they will make sure you know if you violate it.

SLA Best Practices

Creating an SLA is more than just defining services and how to manage them, though. You can do those things without creating a stellar SLA. So how do you make sure that you are creating the best SLA for your support team? We've put together a list of best practices that will help you create the best SLA possible.

Create Separate SLAs for Each Service

Don't define more than one service in an SLA. Break each service into its own SLA. Not only does this eliminate the need to wade through a long document to find information, but it also cuts down on possible confusion over which service the information applies to.

Make Sure it's Measurable

An SLA you can't measure isn't a good SLA. You need to be specific on how you will track performance, otherwise you won't be able to enforce any of the guidelines the SLA puts in place.

Choose the Right Metrics

Measuring your SLA isn't the only thing you need to track. You also need to make sure that you measure the SLA by the right metrics. Good metrics will:

  • Be easy to measure
  • Be simple to understand (no need to get fancy)
  • Motivate the correct behavior
  • Be within your control

If you can find metrics that fit into these categories, you are on your way to having good metrics.

Inspire Positive Customer Experience

When designing your SLA, you want the end goal to be a positive customer experience. Yes, the SLA is an explanation of a service, its standards, and measurement. However, its measurements and standards should guide the process to a positive resolution. Consider how your standards and measurements can influence that.

Trouble composing your first SLA? Download our free SLA template to jumpstart the process.

No SLA Stays Perfect

No SLA stays perfect and, as companies grow, SLAs often become outdated. It's important to check back in to make sure that the SLA is still working as intended. SLAs can often be forgotten when processes or standards change. It's worth checking back in and putting in the extra work to update your SLAs to reflect your current company offerings and processes.


'A Quick Guide to SLA Management and Best Practices' was written by Emily Hall
Emily Hall
Emily is our writer with a love for technology. She can usually be found reading, writing, or tinkering with her latest gadget.


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